NEROCA FC and Sudeva FC have bid to compete in the I-League's 2016-17 season, responding to the All India Football Federation's (AIFF) tender issued on November 23. The bids will be evaluated on December 11, and the league's complement of teams may also be known then, the AIFF said today.
NEROCA FC competed in the second division of the I-League in 2016 and also made the final of the Durand Cup, where they were beaten on penalties by Army Green, while Sudeva FC are based in New Delhi, and have already fielded teams in the youth divisions of the I-League.
I-League CEO Sunando Dhar confirmed to ESPN that the start date for the new season will remain January 7 as planned, but the number of teams competing will only be known in a week's time. "There is a bid evaluation meeting on December 11. We hope to finalise the new teams by then," said Dhar. "In addition to the three bids we already had, we have had two more expressions of interest - from NEROCA and Sudeva. The last date for further bids to be submitted is December 8."
It was revealed when the AIFF last met in November that three clubs - FC Bardez (Goa), Minerva Academy FC (Chandigarh) and Chennai City FC (Chennai) - had originally submitted bids in order to fill in for the withdrawn Salgaocar football club from the field for the 2016-17 season. Following Sporting Clube de Goa's decision to pull out from the I-League, AIFF were forced to call for fresh bids in order to have a complement of a minimum of nine teams.
Minerva Academy had finished behind Dempo in the second division for 2016. After having renamed themselves Minerva Punjab FC. CEO and co-founder Ranjit Bajaj was quoted saying, "With the AIFF relaxing the rules for Aizawl FC and cancelling their relegation, putting Minerva in would be a great idea to make the I-league truly pan-Indian."
Dhar told ESPN that the 2016-17 season could have up to 11 teams competing, but added that AIFF is yet to receive any formal communication from Sporting Clube de Goa or newly-promoted Dempo, both of whom are believed to be actively considering a pullout from the I-League.